Are you the type of traveler who prefers to be part of a tour group, hire a private guide or would you rather explore a town on your own?
With a little research prior to our trips, we usually go it alone, we call it our "Fly By the Seat of Our Pants" traveling. That way we can set our own schedule and take as long as we want to see the sights. But there have been times when we've chosen to join a group (Paris to Versailles bus trip) and we've never been disappointed.
We rarely join a tour group. What I do like to do is try to find a kids travel book that we can learn from. My kids' fave is the Mission series, which offers some great books for Europe and some areas of the states (https://www.amazon.com/Mission-Paris-Scavenger-Adventure-Travel/dp/**bleep**3/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?...
We have done some off the beaten path things from these books and have learned a lot!
I have almost never joined a tour for more than a day, but one-day excursions can be useful to get to interesting but tricky places to find on your own in an unfamiliar location, and to avoid driving, especially when road conditions aren't good. I will sometimes hire a private guide when those conditions apply but there is no excursion to join. Where public transit gets me where I want to go, though, I explore on my own.
I am a huge fan of Couchsurfing.org as a way to address that dilemma - by staying with hosts, I get 'the skinny' from people who live there about where to go, how to get there, etc. Oftentimes, beyond advice, since the hosts have friends and family and things they like to do, themselves, they'll have plans and will invite me along. I've met amazing people, attended dinner parties, gone on amazing hikes, seen neolithic archeological sites, and more just by reaching out.
Similarly, as a host opening up my home, I've learned so much and seen my own area in new ways through the guests that have stayed with me. Perhaps the best example, and most salient to your question, was my first guest: fresh off a stint in Antarctica, she did a solo around-the-world trip. Some of the places she went would often be considered more dangerous for a single female traveler, but couchsurfing allowed her to navigate safely - as an example, in Central America, where she was staying in some out-of-the-way places, her hosts shared their wisdom with her about where and when to take a taxi vs. walk, and when to be back at their home.
We do a lot of cruises so we do a lot of tours. When not on a cruise we usually do our own thing. If we don’t get a rental car we might book a half day or one day tour. Sometimes it’s easier to do that than rent a car for a day. We try to use hop on hop off’s as much as we can.
Personally I hate to "tour" or pay to find out the history or wonder of a place. I'd rather wander somewhere and absorb the history and beauty on my own. That being said, I'm a HUGE "Big Bus Tour" or "Red Bus tour" person when I get to a large city! It helps give you the layout of cities and glances at the sites you'll be heading to. totally worth the $5-10 you pay, and then you can go out the next day and be ready to wander!
I've done two tours, both in Belgium/Luxembourg/Germany/Austria. On one, it was completely hosted and we were on coach buses the entire time. On the other, a few of the days were guided but we had to drive a second van to follow the guide, and a few of the days were on coach buses. On both tours, I can say that I appreciated not having to drive (when I didn't have to), but we found that there was never free time when we wanted it. One trip was in December, and we visited Aachen - and went there to visit the christmas market next to the cathedral. After we arrived we were aghast to hear we only had 30 minutes to shop and tour, and that they wanted us back on the bus 15 minutes before departure 45 minutes after dropping us off. On the other trip we went to Salzburg Austria for a day of sightseeing - our family were big fans of The Sound of Music, and wanted to take the tour to the Von Trapp house...but again, we had 90 minutes in Salzburg, and it would have taken 30 to get to the Von Trapp house and 30 to get back, so not enough time.
I appreciate the knowledge of the guides - were it not for our guide we wouldn't have visited Hofbrau House in Munich - but next time I'd like to take the tour at my own speed with my own personal goals in the schedule.
That's how I feel too. It is nice to make your own plans and not have to depend on a throng of others. But once in a great while, it can work out well.
Very interesting. I had never heard of couchsurfing. Sounds like something to consider to make a trip even more adventurous.